When a gallon of gas was only 11 cents and Seats to a Broadway Musical were priced at a mere $12.50 per ticket

The sign out front of Wilson’s Gas Station in the Great Gatsby now being performed by CBT throughout the remainder of this weekend says

Gas 11 Cents !

Goodness I wish for those times again.  Economists pretty much agree that America is in a recession. Credit is tough to come by, the dollar is weak, stocks are down, personal debt’s gone to the dogs, food and fuel prices are astoundingly upwardly mobile (yuk!), and that perennial bastion of ever-increasing value, real estate, has made a sharp u-turn and currently perks along in the opposite direction. Plus there’s that pesky matter of “consumer confidence.” Even people who aren’t that impacted by the soft economy are hesitant to spend because they aren’t sure what lurks in the future.

CULTURE can be expensive, no matter which way the Dow is pointing. But in belt-tightening times, the cost of enjoying the arts in New York might seem particularly daunting. Take Broadway, for example. The NY Times – The average price paid for a ticket last week was $76, according to the Broadway League, which represents theater owners and producers. For many shows that will barely get you a spot in the rear mezzanine .    Under constant pressure to increase revenues, many cultural organizations use antiquated or sub-optimal pricing schemes that do not capture the full potential of demand. Selling less tickets these days? Well, you’re not alone. And yes, we appear to be in for a bumpy financial ride, at least for the time being. So in an effort to keep the creative product moving from creator to appreciator, has got to be thought out and structured

I am sensing that we are not capturing the full extent of demand for our programs, and we are worried that maybe we are offering discounts to those who are most able to pay and find we are forced e to adjust prices in response to actual sales patterns. Pricing decision-makers need a solid grounding in the economic principles of pricing and a framework for considering future pricing decisions. Different approaches to pricing will need to be explored because we must remember -An American turns 50 every eight seconds—that’s more than 10,000 people every day. The over-50 market has $2 trillion in annual spending power—that accounts for 50 percent of all discretionary income. More than 30 percent of Americans will be over 50 by 2010. And yet, the demographic that gets all the attention is the 18–49 crowd. Why do most arts marketers see the aging of their audience as a problem, and not as an opportunity? The early baby boomers who are soon entering retirement will have the time and the money to be more involved in the arts. Hear how, as an arts marketer, you must embrace this influential segment

Fortunately for anyone who wants to maintain a busy cultural calendar but hears the call of frugality — and for those of us who pinch pennies regardless — Everyone is also searching the home of the bargain ticket, with an array of discounts, promotions and freebies for everything from poetry readings downtown to the glamour of opera at Lincoln Center to King Street Black Box to even a movie ticket at Cinebarre.

Kate D. Levin, NYC  cultural affairs commissioner, says markdowns are part of basic arts economics.“Revenue from ticket sales will always be important,” Ms. Levin said, “but remaining affordable to serve loyal patrons is likely to be a priority for most organizations during times of economic uncertainty.”

Here are some suggestions for how to get the most for your cultural dollar.

The Great White Bargain :  NYTimes states:

Perhaps nothing symbolizes the entertainment draw of New York better than Broadway, and the theater world has the most extensive discount system.  The classic Broadway buck-saver is the TKTS booth, operated by the nonprofit Theater Development Fund (tdf.org). With tickets at 25 to 50 percent off, and sometimes more, it has locations in Times Square, South Street Seaport and, since July, downtown Brooklyn. On Thursday its gleaming new Times Square facility will open with a bonus: credit cards will finally be accepted. Broadway and Off Broadway producers also advertise through Season of Savings, a booklet of coupons for up to 55 percent off, distributed in newspapers and available on the Web (seasonofsavings.com). It was created in response to the drop in theater attendance after 9/11, said Nancy Coyne of the Broadway advertising agency Serino Coyne, which runs the program. “We were nervous that New Yorkers needed more than just Giuliani telling them to go to the theater,” Ms. Coyne said, referring to reassurances at the time by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

The rules are even more byzantine on Broadway.

It may be too soon for many arts institutions to gauge how the recent economic tumult will affect attendance and sales, and to decide how to react. Some are starting with community outreach: in response to the bad news on Wall Street.  I for one is not equating selling prices with your “worth” as an ballet company. This is not only a monumental miscarriage of ego, but it also significantly compromises our  ability to survive a bumpy ride in artland. 

And as esoteric as It sound s I believe Artists possess unique talents and abilities to express emotions, arouse feelings, explore sensitive issues, and make powerful statements with their art. Rather than view tough times as obstacles to career success, consider them opportunities to tap into your creative strengths and reserves, and to expand your sphere of influence. Impact someone else’s life with your art in a meaningful way, and you just might make yourself a sale.  


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